Botan Nabe, or wild boar nabe ‘hotpot’, is a dish commonly found in cold, rural, mountainous regions of Japan today. It may surprise you to learn, however, that it was in fact invented in Kyoto by the founder of Hatakaku, a restaurant founded nearly 100 years ago, located just north of the Imperial Palace.
I have been meaning to introduce this restaurant and this special dish to winter visitors to Kyoto for some time, but was lacking the photographs to do this beautiful and delicious cuisine justice. The other day, however, Kyoto photographer, Kosuke Okuda and I went to Hatakaku and enjoyed a hearty, Kyoto-style feast and brought back some great images.
While wild boar meat was eaten by people in rural areas, this ‘backwoods’ food simply couldn’t be accepted by the refined and elegant Kyotoites. Wild meat such as boar, venison, bear and so on was originally eaten in a very primitive ‘suki-yaki’, named after the metal shovel or spade it was cooked on. The founder of Hatakaku lived in Kumogahata, in the mountains above Kyoto where the imperial hunting grounds were located. Employing his knowledge of local customs and the standards of the ancient capital, he decided to bring this nutritious and flavorful meat to Kyoto and serve it in style.
The fatty meat of the wild boar would be sliced thinly and arranged to create a visually compelling and elegant flower. Now this might bring in some sophisticated customers! Next, he used Kyoto’s famed ‘Saikyo’ white miso and dashi stock for the soup. Three generations later, Hatakaku is still a popular culinary destination in Kyoto. Many restaurants around Japan serve botan nabe, but only Hatakaku can say they are ‘ganso’, or the originator of this cuisine.
Hatakaku is steeped in tradition, and each private room is uniquely furnished. Perhaps the most delightful part of the experience is sitting at the irori, or traditional Japanese hearth, which is recessed into the tatami mat floor in the center of the room. The clay pot nabe is propped up on iron spikes on a bed of rice straw ash and traditional ‘kunagi’ sawtooth oak charcoal, the same used to boil the water for the Japanese tea ceremony. The orange glow and warmth radiating from the charcoal creates a delightful rustic feel, while the ancient capital aesthetic is expressed in the presentation of ingredients, the subtleness of the soup, the flavor of which develops and deepens as the ingredients simmer.
Finally, diners are offered the final course: rice. Rice can be added to the remaining broth and cooked down into zosui rice soup in the nabe pot — a Japanese favorite. The proprietor, Shinzo-san decided that we both preferred the other option: to simply pour the thickened botan nabe soup over the rice instead.
If you are in Kyoto during the winter months, sampling this marvelous dish is a must! Botan Nabe at Hatakaku will cost about 10,000 yen per person, which is about average for fine dining in Kyoto.
See Wild Boar Botan Nabe Stew Specialty Restaurants and Butchers in Kyoto topic at Kyoto Support Forum for more about Botan Nabe in Kyoto.
photography: Kosuke Okuda
＊Note: Botan Nabe is a winter delicacy and is only served at Hatakaku from mid-November to mid-March. Seasonal kaiseki cuisine is served during the rest of the year.
Hatakaku in English
English Menu: no (but there is really no menu, only one dish served)
English Website: none
Reservation: Ask your hotel concierge or Japanese friend to make a reservation for you if you don’t speak Japanese.
Hours: 12noon – 9:30pm (Closed Mondays)
Address: Kyoto-shi, Kamigyo-ku, Goryomae Karasuma-dori, Nishi-iru, Uchikamae-cho 430 (京都市上京区御霊前通鳥丸西入内構町430)
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